Right now there is a lot of talk about restructuring the Super League and Championship competitions.
Some of the idea’s on the table seem alright. Others are completely ridiculous and should not even be up for consideration.
The problem with all of the options being put up for discussion right now is that they do not address all of the issues that the game in Great Britain currently faces.
With a broken business model, clubs going bust at all levels of the game, players leaving for more money elsewhere and the desperate need to expand into new areas, coupled with the need to reduce the number of clubs in Super League….you’d think there is no way to fix all the problems the game in Great Britain faces.
I think there is…
I think you can reduce the number of teams in Super League, expand into new areas, make every game mean something again, ease the financial pressures clubs face and set Rugby League up for a long and prosperous future…
The League Freak Restructure
I would reduce Super League back to a 10 team competition. For the purposes of this article I will call this competition Super League One.
Below Super League One I would create another 10 team competition which for now I will call Super League Two.
You would have 20 professional clubs across two competition. Two competitions you could sell the naming rights to. More games you could sell to broadcasters across larger areas of Great Britain.
Reducing The Salary Cap
I would reduce the Super League One salary cap to £1 million per season.
Clubs are bleeding red ink across Super League and the simple fact is the competition is not generating enough money to cover the current salary cap. Players can complain about what they are being payed and point to players in other competitions all they like. The fact is that they do not generate the money to justify how much they are being payed right now.
By reducing the salary cap you immediately alleviate the financial pressure most clubs are under right now. Clubs right across the competition would become financially sound. You should also see some talent equalization across clubs. The salary can needs to be policed thoroughly. We can not continue to have a situation where a few clubs use everyone else as feeder teams, getting any players that want from teams below them on the ladder and doing so without ever having to lose players themselves.
The Super League Two salary cap would need to be set very carefully to ensure all clubs in that competition could afford it. It would obviously be lower than the Super League One salary cap, but teams still need to be able to build competitive squads.
The draw is pretty simple. You play every team in your own league twice, and every team in the other league once.
So Super League One teams would play a full home and away season against the other 9 teams in Super League One. They would then also play one game against each of the Super League Two teams. This would mean all teams in both competitions end up playing a 28 game season.
While that is a lot of games, I think it is worth the extra fixtures.
Whether you mix inter-league games throughout the season, or you play them in a block at the start of the year, they would add an interesting element to the for-and-against records in both competitions.
The Playoff Structure
The top 4 teams from Super League One make the finals. They would be joined by the top 2 teams from Super League Two. That would give you a six team finals series and means that any team in either competition has the chance to be Grand Final winners.
I would like to see a really simple playoff structure that rewards the top Super League Two team just as much as the top Super League One team.
I’d like to see the minor premiers in both competitions get the first week off. The remaining four teams would play off for the right to play the respective minor premiers. From there it is a straight knockout competition. No one gets any second chances. If you lose, your season is over.
That would give you a three week playoff series, less than we have right now, but I think it would be far more interesting.
Do You Need Promotion And Relegation Now?
I don’t think you need promotion and relegation under my restructure of the game.
Super League Two clubs will be playing regular games against Super League One teams. They will have the ability to win the Grand Final if they are good enough! There is simply no need to have a promotion and relegation system.
If there are teams below Super League Two that are capable of joining the competition in the future, they can simply be added to Super League Two. If a team in Super League Two dominates for a number of seasons and shows they are financially capable of spending the extra money, they can join Super League One.
Making Every Game Count
With only 4 teams from Super League One and 2 teams from Super League Two making the playoffs, clubs will have to push hard to secure finals places.
Inter-league games would become very interesting because a big win could have a huge effect on a teams for-and-against record.
Be Careful What You Wish For
Over the years we have always heard Championship clubs whinging that they belong in Super League. There is always some club claiming that they are performing better than a current Super League club, even though they are in a completely different competition and facing a completely different level of opposition.
Under my restructure of the game these clubs would get their wish. They would get a chance to play against Super League opposition and prove themselves against the best clubs in Europe.
I tend to think that most of them will struggle. The idea behind my restructure though is that teams would be able to struggle on the field, and yet be financially sound off the field. That is crucial as it would allow teams to build for the future rather than just struggling to surrvive from month to month.
The Need To Push Expansion
Rugby League in Great Britain simply needs to break out of Yorkshire and Lancashire. If people want to see their own team prosper, they will welcome expansion.
Rugby League can not survive as a professional sports into the future with most clubs playing out of small towns in northern England. It is no coincidence at all that over the last 15 years, Bradford and Leeds, two teams based in cities, have dominated for long stretches.
Under my restructure of the game you could bring expansion clubs into Super League Two and give them an easier birth as a professional club. With inter-league play, these expansion teams would become part of the overall Super League competition. That would allow the Rugby Football League to go to broadcasters and sponsors and offer them a Rugby League competition that is truly played beyond northern England.
Choosing Who Makes The Cut In Both Competitions
When it comes to Super League One, some teams demand a place. Others will face the tough prospect of finding themselves back in Super League Two. Their fans may not like it, but the fact of the matter is that these teams will be strong clubs in Super League Two rather than their current existence as strugglers in the current Super League competition.
So, the big question….which teams would I have involved in my restructure of the game?
Super League One
Super League Two
(Five To Be Added)
It’s a tough one, especially as you go through both competitions. I’ve selected who I would drop down to Super League Two. I have also added Toulouse Olympique to Super League Two. From there it is up to Championship clubs to make their case for being involved in Super League Two.
One thing I do want to say…
If we get to a situation where by Super League Two needs to be a 12 team competition, I’m fine with that. If there are 12 teams that can comfortably compete at Super League Two level, by all means, expand the competition.
It would have a big effect on the draw, but I’m sure it is something that could be worked around. Ideally, if they are ready, I would like to see an expansion club added to Super League Two.
The Effect On The Challenge Cup
Initially I felt as though my competition restructure would be a huge blow to the Challenge Cup. After all, one of the supposedly great things about the Challenge Cup is that is allowed us to see Super League teams taking on non Super League teams.
With Super League Two teams playing Super League One clubs on a regular basis, we might actually see a few upsets. There is no doubt that at the very least the regular competition against top teams would help Super League Two teams become much more competitive in the Challenge Cup.
Looking Towards The Future
My plan above is just the begging of a longer term goal. I want to see Rugby League in Great Britain back to being a stable business. I want the RFL to be able to offer broadcasters and sponsors content that they are interested in.
That interest will take a while to build, and the plan above is not a silver bullet. It will not fix all of the problems Rugby League in Great Britain faces. What it does provide is a good base to build upon.
As you brought more expansion clubs into Super League Two, and promoted clubs from Super League Two into Super League One over time, you would then start to look towards having a different competition structure all together. It would be fantastic to one day see a Lancashire Division, a Yorkshire Division, A French Division and an Expansion Club Division.
For now, I believe this is the competition structure the Rugby Football League should be looking at. It is simple, easy for anyone to understand, it provides the opportunity for natural expansion while also allowing clubs to compete under a much better business structure.
The ultimate goal is to end up with a competition that is relevant across Great Britain. Right now, Super League simply does not provide that in any capacity. With the competition structure above, top teams can compete against quality opposition while also getting the benefits of expansion that will come from the Super League Two competition.
Now…all we need to discuss is the fee I will charge the RFL for using my idea…
A well known Rugby League writer, League Freak has established a reputation among supporters of the game for his fearless commentary and unmatched insight. With a reach that spans both sides of the globe, League Freak has produced an independent network that allows him to distribute content to his many thousands of followers. He is the owner and main author of LeagueFreak.com